Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is having what sportswriters call a “streak,” scientists call “critical mass,” and Dickey himself calls a “kairotic moment.” To put it more prosaically, this is R.A. Dickey’s year. “Timing is so important in life, I believe,” Dickey said. “I have really felt that this last year has been the culmination of so many things coming together.”
Defining Dickey’s kairotic juncture should probably start with baseball. Despite spending most of his career in the minors, the 37-year-old Nashville native (who attended Montgomery Bell Academy and the University of Tennessee) has won 20 games for the New York Mets, a team that finished fourth in the National League East, using a pitch that purists consider a gimmick. He was also tapped for the All-Star Team and he is widely expected to win the National League’s Cy Young Award. And all this while nursing a strained muscle: Dickey recently announced that he will undergo abdominal surgery this week for an injury he sustained in April.
Aside from baseball proper, he’s also featured in Knuckleball, a new documentary in limited theatrical release and in streaming video at a number of online outlets, and he won the 2012 Branch Rickey Award, which honors “humanitarians in Major League Baseball who personify ‘service above self.’ ” Dickey’s philanthropic work includes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on behalf of the Bombay Teen Challenge (he raised more than $100,000 for the nonprofit, which rescues young women from prostitution) and helping to found Honor the Father Ministries, a charity that distributes medical supplies and baseball equipment throughout the world. “Dickey has traveled to Cuba five times, as well as to Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica to meet with young players, give them equipment and instruct them in baseball,” notes the Mets’ press release. The Branch Rickey Award — voted on by a 350-member committee that includes reporters, past winners and various executives and administrators — will be presented to Dickey on Nov. 10 at a banquet in Denver.
Chapter 16 doesn’t normally cover baseball news but will take every opportunity to champion a good baseball book — see Chapter16.org for a review of Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up — and for us, the best news of all is the announcement of Dickey’s new three-book deal with Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin. The first book, set to appear next fall, is an adaptation for middle-grade readers of Dickey’s memoir; the other two volumes will be picture books. The first of those, Knuckleball Ned, is “a comic story of staying true to yourself through adversity,” according to Dial, and will be published in 2014. The publisher has not announced the subject of the second picture book.
Readers of Wherever I Wind Up will not be surprised to learn that Dickey is keeping the good news in perspective. “I feel incredibly blessed that I am able to recognize my own shortcomings now (they are many) and work hard to grow out of them,” he said. “I am also grateful for the moment. I know that there are particular seasons to life, and I am in the middle of a nice stretch, but it will not always be so. The real key is how can I hold what is fantastic and what is broken simultaneously and continue to walk forward? In short, can I find value in soaring among the clouds as well as toiling among the weeds?”
For more local book coverage, please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.